Lebanese could use some rubbish management tips

The Lebanese could use some rubbish management tips given their penchant for the latest electronic gadgets.

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Somewhere in my house in the mountains, I have a radio cassette recorder.

Remember those? I think it's a Sharp or a National Panasonic, I can't be sure. I got it for Christmas when I was 15. At the time, we are talking 30 years ago now, it was considered a very cool piece of kit, not least because it could go to any track on a cassette by detecting the bare patch on the ribbon that was the space between songs. The applause on live albums made this process a bit tricky but it was a shortcoming I could live with.

Elsewhere in the same house is an even older piece of equipment: what used to be called a music centre. It was not as sophisticated as a hi-fi stack system but my father really wasn't that into his music and, if memory serves, he only bought it because the shelving system in his London apartment had a dedicated space for an audio system. And so we went, as was his habit whenever a serious purchase had to be made, to Harrods where, among the pianos and TVs in handsome veneer cabinets, he picked out a Sanyo with a turntable, a flatbed cassette player and a tuner that ran along the front of the unit.

Both machines, with a combined age of 64, still work, which is less than can be said for my Philips mini-system, which has given up the ghost after only three years of service. Its predecessor, an LG with a catastrophic three-CD changer, lasted a little under two years, while the hi-fi before that, a Sony bought in 1992, was with us for 12 years. On reflection, its passing represented something of a watershed in terms of build quality.

The debris really begins to accumulate when one moves to the audio-visual department in the Karam household. Can it be that we have three DVD players? The most recent upgrade, bought on Sunday, was necessary, according to my son, because the new TV we bought for the World Cup is best suited to a DVD player with something called an HDMI lead. If I insisted on using the old one, he told me, I would have to unplug the cable receiver every time I wanted to watch a movie.

The list goes on. I have had three digital cameras and yet, when I used film, I had the same Canon SLR for more than a decade. I change my mobile phone every year; there is a drawer dedicated to the last tired old models. Even the landline "handy" is replaced with annoying frequency. I remember being genuinely shocked when in the early 1980s I would watch TV footage of the Japanese getting rid of their garbage in skips overflowing with TV monitors and hi-fi separates. Now I am wondering what to do with our pile of broken electronics that includes two hi-fi systems, an old "fat" TV without a remote control (useless), a computer monitor, a 15-year-old laptop with 15 megabytes of memory (also useless), half a dozen mobiles and a perfectly good but still useless flatbed scanner for which I can't download or even find the driver.

I know it's a sign of a curmudgeon to bemoan the fact that nothing is built to last anymore and, yes, I know digital technology has made things much cheaper but what worries me is what happens to all the waste. It's enough of a worry in countries where waste disposal is governed by strict laws and scrutinised by anxious non-governmental organisations, but in Lebanon, a country where the environment minister thinks unregulated quarrying is good for the economy, such concerns are not a priority.

The Lebanese are lovely people who, by the way, maintain immaculate homes but they will be the first to admit that many parts of the country have been turned into ad hocrubbish dumps. Lebanon's environmental distress is apparently a throwback to the Ottoman occupation, when littering was considered a form of petty rebellion that was to be admired. Sukleen, the company contracted to clean Beirut, its suburbs and other major urban centres, has made brave attempts to encourage us to recycle. But in a country where people still see no problem with throwing empty bottles and other refuse from moving cars and where, in the historic and supposedly picturesque city of Sidon, there exists a huge hill of rubbish that no one is quite sure what to do with, we still have a lot to learn.

Sukleen assures us that it "neutralises" all waste in landfills but its mandate does not cover all Lebanon. Outside Beirut, especially in the rural areas where most of the nation's fruits and vegetables are grown, all bets are off. What happens in these regions to the lead, mercury, lithium and cadmium, as well as the toxic retardants in plastics - all of which can be found in TVs and other stuff? It really doesn't bear thinking about. Farmers in the Bekaa Valley have been muttering for years about toxic waste buried deep in the fertile soil and blaming it for increased incidents of cancer in the area.

What to do? There is a man who owns a little shop, more a shack really, near the Jaguar showroom in Sin el Fil in north Beirut, who can work wonders with a mini-soldering iron. He once repaired a remote control the Grundig agent told me was dead and charged me all of US$2.50 (Dh9.18). The back of his shop is a living museum to the evolution of audio-visual goods over the past 40 years. Maybe I will take all my electronic debris to him to do with as he pleases. I might even throw in the Sanyo music centre.

Michael Karam is a publishing and communications consultant based in Beirut